Ephemerides

A Daily Diatribe by a Pompous Git

Who is that fat bastard? A Sturm's Eye View, Guaranteed Free of Harmful, or Potentially Harmful Chemicals -- but Watch Out for the Ideas! Some of them are Contagious! 

A journal of sorts to record Jonathan Sturm's (and others') thoughts and observations on things worth thinking about. Feedback welcome, but be aware that unless you prominently say you want your communication kept private, I may publish it.

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Monday 13 May 2002

My computer began acting up last week. I was doing a few things I don't normally, OCR among them. Over the months since the last clean install, I had installed/uninstalled quite a few pieces of evaluation software and this always leaves remnants in the Registry. Generally, I find it easier to do a clean install rather than hack the Registry and various *.inf files. It's time consuming is the only problem. Prior to The Big Event, I download all the latest drivers and patches for my regular applications for addition to what I call my Install CD. That means everything other than the original application installation disks.

The installation of Win2k went smoothly enough, though I was reminded of how much easier this sort of thing is with Linux these days. Where Win2k requires intermittent attention as it pops up dialog boxes, SuSE asks me for almost all of this stuff at the beginning, so I can go away while the actual install occurs. 

I was feeling a little under the weather for most of the week. I do not sleep well at the best of times, but find myself unable to sleep more than three hours at a time. I seem to wake up with a full bladder no matter how long I refrain from drinking before bed. Old age, I guess.

This week will see me quite busy, so I may not post quite as much as usual.

Thought for the day:

The tendency of old age to the body, say the physiologists, is to form bone. It is as rare as it is pleasant to meet with an old man whose opinions are not ossified.

J. F. Boyse

Current Listening

John Mayall -- Notice to Appear

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Tuesday 14 May 2002

Mark Zimmermann writes about coincidence, reminding me of a few that occurred in my life.

In 1965, my family arrived in Australia on April 25, my father's birthday. We were a week, or so late having braved a hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean. April 25 is Australia's most important public holiday, "celebrating" Australian and New Zealand's troops' defeat at Gallipoli in the First World War. It's also my first wife's birthday.

Six weeks after arriving in Australia, we were renting a hovel in Sunbury, Victoria. A couple of nights after moving in, there came a knock at the door and we were asked: "Are you the people from Warwickshire?" One of the boys, David Kemp, lived two or three doors away when I was two or three years old. I used to visit his home to watch Popeye on the television. We were too poor to own one.

In the mid-seventies, I went to Australia's version of Woodstock, the Sunbury Rock Festival. I arrived in the late summer evening and after enjoying the final act of the day, Daddy Cool, fell asleep. When I awoke, I found myself next to a South African girl, Jo, I had met in Burnie two years before.

Richard Feynman wrote about coincidences. So often we have a premonition that something is about to happen, a phone call from someone for instance. It happens and you are surprised and remember it. If it doesn't happen as is usual, you forget. Of course the failure to occur outnumbers occurrences by a large margin. As I was reading Feynman's words, I had a premonition that my friend Robert Stonjek was sending me an email. Checking my Inbox, expecting to find nothing, there was an email from him.

-oOo-

Interesting: 

Powers of Ten

View the Milky Way at 10 million light years from the Earth. Then move through space towards the Earth in successive orders of magnitude until you reach a tall oak tree just outside the buildings of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Tallahassee, Florida. After that, begin to move from the actual size of a leaf into a microscopic world that reveals leaf cell walls, the cell nucleus, chromatin, DNA and finally, into the subatomic universe of electrons and protons.

Thought for the day:

In some sense man is a microcosm of the universe; therefore what man is, is a clue to the universe. We are enfolded in the universe.

David Bohm

Current Listening

Dory Previn -- We're Children of Coincidence and Harpo Marx

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Wednesday 15 May 2002

Following feedback from my old editor, Allan Moult, I have included a link to the Guest-book for readers to leave comments as an alternative to emailing me. Later on, I expect that my son Thomas will be able to come up with something more sophisticated.

-oOo-

A couple of years ago, I "sold" my venerable P75 and several other bits and pieces to a "friend" pending payout on an insurance claim. The payout happened some months ago, so I became insistent that the equipment be paid for. Yesterday the equipment was returned. The computer is minus 32 MB of EDO RAM, the Voodoo Banshee has been replaced by a Trident VGA adapter, the 5 GB drive with a 2 GB drive and the fskhead password protected the BIOS. For the life of me, I can't locate the BIOS battery, or appropriate jumper to short and the ASUS website no longer appears to have the MoBo manual for DL. It's a P54SP4 Rev 1.5. If any of my readers have access to the manual and can tell me how to clear the BIOS password, I'd be very grateful.

Addendum to the above. The backdoor password is AWARD_SW, and that allows the machine to boot. But making changes to the BIOS now requires me to use the backdoor password.

I'm also minus my first mouse, a MS "leprechaun's toilet", several manuals, a fine Zenith keyboard and original packaging. 

I'm not a happy chappy today!

-oOo-

One of Franklin village's inhabitants is, though. Mark Gilchrist was renovating Kunold Reitler's pub when he found a cache of old coins. Good on yer, Mark!

Thought for the day:

"Creation science" has not entered the curriculum for a reason so simple and so basic that we often forget to mention it: because it is false, and because good teachers understand exactly why it is false. What could be more destructive of that most fragile yet most precious commodity in our entire intellectually heritage -- good teaching -- than a bill forcing honorable teachers to sully their sacred trust by granting equal treatment to a doctrine not only known to be false, but calculated to undermine any general understanding of science as an enterprise?

Stephen Jay Gould

Current Listening

Freddy King -- Woman Across the River

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Thursday 16 May 2002

HTML Standards

Fellow DayNoter, Dave Farquhar wrote:

"Secondly, a technical problem in my stylesheet has arisen. The stylesheet meets W3C standards just fine. Opera, Mozilla, Netscape, Konqueror and IE 5.0x render it just fine. IE5.5 and IE6 do not. Normally I'd tell Bill Gates what he can do with himself and his b0rken browser, but since IE5.5 and IE6 unfortunately make up the overwhelming majority of browsers out there, I can't exactly do that. Well, I can, but I'll never hear the end of it if I do. So I'll have to tweak the stylesheet to try to make it work."

That and an email exhorting me to use Movable Type got me to thinking about W3C and Standards. A page I read regularly states:

"While this site's content is fully accessible to any browser or Internet device, its visual layout and styling are specified using CSS. This text indicates that your browser isn't fully W3C/CSS compliant, or has CSS turned off. These pages render better in a browser that properly supports W3C web standards. See the WebStandards.org browser upgrades page for more info."

Like many such pages exhorting us to "get a better browser", the code in the page doesn't validate. Movable Type's own pages don't validate. Their pages also sets text size (in pixels) so on my 1280x1024 monitor, that text appears as 7 point type (a capital letter height of about 2.5 mm or 1/10th of an inch). That's at least 30% smaller than I can read in comfort.

Like Dave Farquhar, I prefer letting my readers determine the size of text that they read. For instance, if you are using Internet Explorer, click View, Text Size and choose a larger, or smaller size. Body text and heads all change to maintain the same proportion, but become easier, or harder to read, depending on your monitor resolution. Now go to  WebStandards.org and try the same thing before clicking your back button to return here.

The Pompous Git's standards include the question: Does what I create make it easier, or harder for the reader?

On a related note, I read on Brian Bilbrey's page:"

"OpenOffice apparently does not handle extended characters well. The control character section of ISO-8859-1 (codes at or above 0x80) was partially coopted extended and embraced by Microsoft way back in the mists of time, to yield such typographic nicities as 'Smart Quotes' and other wonders. While these certainly have made some forms of printed documentation prettier, they do so at the expense of a non-standard implementation."

In truth, the non-standard is Linux, or more properly ISO-8859-1, for failing to provide standard typographers' marks. Let's face it, typographers' marks have been around a lot longer than computers!

I think I know how part of the mess was created. When ISO 8859-1 (the Western European Character Set) was in a late stage of development, Microsoft, Lotus, Digital Equipment Corp and Commodore (for the Amiga OS) adopted it. Some time after that, characters 0127 to 0159 were eliminated from ISO 8859-1. Microsoft, far from adding to the character set, were just a little hasty in adopting an unfinished standard.

One story has it that the removal of the oe ligature was due to the French committee member being absent on the day the decision to remove it was taken. Does this mean that the Belgian and Swiss contingents sufficiently loathed the French to ignore their own needs? The removal of six of the most important typographic marks seems more than a little peculiar. Was the intent to hand over desktop publishing to the Mac, Windows, Amiga and DEC?

Of course the lack of standard typographers' marks in Linux makes it completely useless for most DTP. Until that situation is rectified, there's quite a few of us will continue with Windows, or the Macintosh solutions. And I'm still jealous that the Mackerels have the dotless fi ligature and Windows doesn't.

Thought for the day:

People who honestly mean to be true really contradict themselves much more rarely than those who try to be "consistent."

Oliver Wendell Holmes

Current Listening

Nico -- Drama of Exile

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Friday 17 May 2002

Further to yesterday's thoughts on web publishing, I came across the following:

"More important still is font size. You may be aware that the same font, at the same point size on a Macintosh "looks smaller" than on most Windows machines. In a nutshell, this is because the "logical resolution" of a Macintosh is 72dpi, while the Windows default is 96dpi. The implications of this are significant. Firstly, it guarantees that it is essentially impossible to have text look identical on Macintoshes and Windows based systems. But if you embrace the adaptability philosophy it doesn't matter.

What? If you are concerned about exactly how a web page appears this is a sign that you are still aren't thinking about adaptive pages. One of the most significant accessibility issues is font size. Small fonts are more difficult to read. For those of us with good eyesight, it can come as a shock that a significant percentage of the population has trouble reading anything below 14 point times on paper. Screens are less readable than paper, because of their lower resolution.

Does that mean the minimum point size we should use is 14 pts? That doesn't help those whose sight is even less strong. So what is the minimum point size we should use? None. Don't use points. This allows readers to choose the font size which suits them. The same goes even for pixels. Because of logical resolution differences, a pixel on one platform is not a pixel on another.

You can still suggest larger font sizes for headings and other elements. CSS provides several ways of suggesting the size of text in such a way as to aid adaptability. We'll look at just one to get an idea.

With CSS you can specify font size as a percentage of the font size of a parent element. For example, headings are inside the BODY of the page. If you don't set a size for the text in the BODY, then the text of the BODY will be the size that the reader has chosen as their default size. Already we are aiding adaptability of our page, simply by doing nothing!

You might say "but the text looks too big" if I just leave it like that. Make it smaller then. But in your browser. And your readers will then have the option to make it bigger or smaller in their browsers too, depending on their tastes, or their needs.

We can make headings and other elements stand out using font size by specifying that headings of level 1 should be say 30% larger than the body text, level 2 should be 25% larger, and so on. Now, regardless of the size that the user chooses for their main text, headings will be scaled to be proportionally bigger than the main text. Similarly text can be scaled to be smaller than the body text, however, this can give rise to situations where the text can be illegibly small, so use with caution.

We've done very little really, just avoided using absolute font sizes, and used proportional sizes for headings, and we've already made our pages much more adaptable and accessible."

John Allsopp's full document can be found here and a very good read it is! There are only two problems and both are severe. The first, and this gave me a real laugh, is that the publisher has broken John's advice regarding type-size. To read it comfortably, I copied the text from my browser into Word. It was only later I discovered that there's a button on the right-hand side of the page to allow reading the text in its entirety and have the reader's browser in control of the text size. I had somehow accidentally activated this, making the word "TEXT" disappear while doing something else in another browser window.

The second problem is more severe: "You may be aware that the same font, at the same point size on a Macintosh 'looks smaller' than on most Windows machines." In fact, the opposite is true! This is why so many pages designed on the Mac are completely unreadable to all Windows users with less than perfect eyesight and an exceptional display. This is a logical consequence of the difference between 72 pixels per inch on the Mac and 96 pixels per inch on Windows. Text set to a height of 12 pixels appears at 12 points, or 4.2mm on a Mac. On Windows, that's 8 points, or 3.2mm. Magazines and books are frequently set at 10 points and Mac users with this habit are subjecting Windows users to 7.5 points -- near enough to what I measured with my typographer's rule yesterday.

Consider these statistics for April this year from thecounter:

1. Win 98  230694772 57%
2. Win 2000 72109054 18%
3. Win ME 32194674 8%
4. Win NT 22328006 5%
5. Win 95 22050390 5%
6. Mac  9102062 2%
7. Unknown 6089410 1%
8. Win 3.x 1516973 0%
9. Linux 1224666 0%
10. WebTV 1142952 0%
11. Unix 397392 0%
12. Win XP 125994 0%
13. OS/2 39059 0%
14. Amiga 19035 0%

 It seems to me perverse that the designers using "the computer for the rest of us" don't seem to care that what they create is almost useless for almost all of us.

-oOo-

Try typing the words "pompous git" into the Google search engine. I guess that means I'm the most pompous git on the Internet :-)

Thought for the day:

Douglas Adams was often asked: "What impact do you think computers and the Internet will have on publishing?" or "What impact do you think computers and the Internet will have on TV?" And most of them wanted him to say, "Not very much."

"In reality, it's a bit like asking the Mississippi or the Nile, 'What effect is meeting the Atlantic ocean going to have on you?' And the honest answer is, 'The rule of the river will no longer apply.' The publishing company trying to build river banks in the middle of the ocean is going to be in for a rude awakening. There is an ocean of data out there, and there needs to be a way to have it make sense to us."

Current Listening

Dire Straits -- Self-titled

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Saturday 18 May 2002

From my Inbox:

>Really, you ought to think of publishing your thoughts 
>following your own guidelines for accessibility. I'd be more 
>than happy to do so on your behalf

Jonathon,

it is ironic I know,

we have no control over that site, which published my article,

but we really do practice what we preach,

try

http://www.westciv.com/style_master/house/good_oil/dao/index.html

for the same article in more accessible format.

Thanks for the interest, and thoughts,

John Allsopp

Style Master - master CSS Layout Master - page layout for the web download self paced standards based web training The House of Style - everything you need to know about CSS http://www.westciv.com

-oOo-

Today is my sister Janet's birthday. Happy birthday, Janet. Here's a picture of her.

My sister, Janet

Happy XXth birthday, little sister!

Since my sister lives so far away, we celebrated my best friend's 60th birthday instead, dining at Mures Upper Deck. It's a glorified fish and chip shop, really. You can get food of the same quality at The Republic in North Hobart for half the price. The service is also way better. (SWMBO's entrée was missing in action). After a meal at The Republic, you get live music and generally of extraordinarily high quality. 

Mind you, I always said it's better to be born lucky than rich. By the time it came to paying the bill we were told that there was no remainder to pay. So SWMBO, my friend and I had our food and drinks for free. Given the parlous state of our current finances, that was more than welcome!

-oOo-

And an interesting look at orthodoxy by Australian writer, Donald Horne.

Some of the new orthodoxies that now seem established are really myths recently fabricated about the past. An example of this is the belief that traditional senses of "community" and "neighbourhood" have collapsed. What have those two, "community" and "neighbourhood" meant, in the past, in Australia?

As a voice from part of that past I can say that I grew up partly in a suburban street and partly in a street in a country town, and I can bear witness that the total sense of "community" in the streets of either was close to nil.

Thought for the day:

He who knows how to be poor knows everything.

Jules Michelet

Current Listening

Mahavishnu Orchestra -- Birds of Fire

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Sunday 19 May 2002

Another party this evening, but not the usual sort. The Huon Valley Book Discussion Group met for the first time for quite a while at The House of Steel. Until a year or so ago, courtesy of the State Library Service, everyone in the group read the same book and met to discuss it. The monthly meetings were a bizarre mixture of discussion about how silly the question sheets accompanying the book were, serious discussion, off-topic ribaldry and general gossip. In short, they were a lot of fun.

Unfortunately, competition for the "better" books provided by the Library Service is keen and we spent a year reading (or not) everyone's third, or fourth choice. The suggestion was made that my wife, the organiser of the books and meetings, be relieved by someone else due to her many other community commitments and that we meet irregularly to discuss books from our own collections. This latter was something we always did anyway, even though it wasn't a formal part of the raison d'être for the group. Sharing books among ourselves was a major benefit for most of us.

As a consequence of the lack of focus provided by the "required" reading, things fell apart more than somewhat. I put required in quotes there because some of us rarely got around to reading the book of the month, either due to pressure of work, or disinterest in the title. Given the general lack of formality of this group of keen intellects, it never seemed to matter overmuch and regular readers will have observed The Pompous Git never allows lack of depth of knowledge to get in the way of a good opinion! He is not alone.

So, this evening we decided, over a bring-a-plate-and-bottle supper, to reinstitute the regular book. and regular monthly meeting. Marguerite -- She Who Must Be Obeyed -- is once more the organiser, though assisted this time round by Rick and Alexis at the antiques shop. They will be the distributors of the books having the ideal location.

-oOo-

And while on the topics bookish, for some reason beyond my comprehension, I opened a spam email from an online bookstore. The book: Copernicus, God, and Goldilocks -- Our Place and Purpose in the Universe, by Australian writer David Allen John Seargent looks to be an interesting read. There's a short excerpt here.

-oOo-

The coming week looks set to be a particularly busy one. I have a website to finish and late in the week another to assist in the planning of. My good friend Tim Marshall is flying in for a three day visit and that will allow us the opportunity to communicate face-to-face for the first time in what must be ten years. Tim is an exceptionally fine writer and he is planning to make as much of his writing as possible available on the Internet. Tim's area of expertise is sustainable agriculture.

-oOo-

The House of Steel received many compliments for its fine thermal performance on a particularly chilly evening. The stove was set to its lowest setting and we had to open the French doors and a window slightly to avoid overheating. I asked for and gained permission to document the construction of a "budget" version of The House of Steel by Jackie Mylie. She and her husband Paul's new home is to be somewhat smaller and the foundation is especially interesting. Needless to say, construction is delayed due to bureaucratic inertia.

-oOo-

I would also like to extend a warm welcome to my many new readers. The increase of nearly 20% over the last month alone has not gone unnoticed. Don't be afraid to comment on what you find in these pages, either on the comments page, or by email.

Thought for the day:

A man is the sum of his actions, of what he has done, of what he can do. Nothing else.

Mahatma Gandhi

Current Listening

King Crimson -- Lark's Tongues in Aspic

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